I don't speak Spanish, but I understand just enough to almost know what's going on in a telenovela, if I watch closely and pick up the visual clues and body language. This is a worthwhile exercise if only for a chance to look at the beautiful people on these programs.
Beautiful people on English-language shows always seem to be doing despicable things. The villains on Spanish-language soap operas are often hideous, or at least poorly groomed. If they're not, that means they're either destined for redemption or simply misunderstood.
Most of the beautiful people on the telenovelas are just living regular lives (although with more passion (and car crashes) than I'm used to seeing in my own limited experience). They love each other ... a lot ... and they love their parents and grandparents, and they love their children more than anything. It's a lifestyle I could get behind.
The understanding I bring to Serafín, or El Niño que vino del Mar, comes from one semester of beginning Spanish, semi-immersion in the Destinos series, and occasionally intense study of two or three text books. I know this isn't going to teach me how to speak the language. It gives me a bare head start as I try to pick up conversational threads and story lines.
The fact that I keep watching must mean that I'm getting something out of these shows. It's not a compulsion, though. I don't have to watch them the way I have to watch Buffy and The West Wing (and General Hospital). I just like to check in every so often and join la familia. Maybe if I watched more regularly, I really would learn the language.